As I said in the first post of this series on gender and workplace stress, I understand gender is more complex than the binary of male and female. Most of the research that underpins these posts perpetuates that binary. However, as recently as in the last ten years, social science researchers have begun to investigate the experience of non-binary and non-conforming gender identity in the workplace. That important research will expand our understanding of the experience of work.
the study of stress has been a study of men
Much of the literature on workplace stress published in academic articles, textbooks, and in the popular press is based on decades-old research conducted on men. The theories of “dead white guys,” as one of my professors used to say, dominate our understanding of social phenomena like workplace stress. During World War II, women in North America and the United Kingdom secured many traditionally male-dominated jobs and have continued the fight for, and incrementally achieve, their rightful place in the world of work. Despite these gains, and there are still many gains to be won, until only recently men have dominated the world of work. This means that the social science study of workplace stress has largely been the study of men.
diversity and the changing role of men
Recent research on workplace stress and male gender identity is focused on diversity and the changing role of men. Along with heterosexism in society in general, gay men suffer heterosexism in the workplace. This discrimination is associated with adverse psychological, health, and job-related outcomes. Being out has been correlated to an increase in direct heterosexism. With respect to the changing role of men, men experience the same negative life-work spillover as women. Negative spillover happens when stress in one domain, work or home life, spills over to cause stress in the other. With respect to non-traditional male roles, working single fathers may not advance in the workplace like their married, male counterparts. The stress associated with a lack of career advancement coupled with the challenges of being a single parent is no longer unique to only women.
classic work stressors affect men differently
Stress, in general, can be understood as one or more of the following: the pressure of excessive demands, the frustration associated with one’s goals being thwarted, changes that cause us to grieve a loss, and conflict between people or expectations. Along with the stressors shared by men and women that I discussed in Part 1 of this series, most of us can describe our workplace stress as some form of pressure, frustration, change or conflict. Research shows, however, that men and women react quite differently to stress.
When stressed, many women communicate with their social or workplace networks. Additionally, women are more likely to seek information regarding the stressor. Men, however, tend to withdraw. While women and men both suffer psychological impacts of stress, studies show that men’s physical health is more impacted than women’s. The most researched physiological impact is cardiovascular disease. Men’s increased risk of cardiovascular disease associated with workplace stress may be due, in part, to men’s negative coping mechanisms which often include addictive behaviors, such as increased alcohol consumption, increased smoking, and workaholism.
male workers and their employers can do something
Men and women can adopt similar strategies for reducing stress. Everyone benefits from regular exercise, a healthy diet, adequate sleep, the support of friends and family, spirituality or community, and optimism. Men, however, need to focus more on talking about their stress, seeking information about stress, and avoiding negative coping. Many workplaces provide access to employee and family assistance programs. Men are well served by these resources since the programs offered are largely based on decades of research conducted on men. As far as changes to the workplace, employers can do something immediately. Although research shows that on-site childcare would benefit women more than men (see Part 2 of this series), it really serves any family unit. Employers can provide flexibility, with respect to conditions of employment, while ensuring that the careers of both men and women are not adversely impacted; for example, working from home as necessary to care for children. Lastly, employers can encourage dialogue on stress, men’s negative coping, and the associated health impacts, while ensuring that men are not isolated or punished.